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Pete Herzog - Steel Guitar: A Blues Opera

Hartkop Productions

2 CD set; Disc One runs 58:21, and Disc Two runs 41:52

Styles: Mellow Acoustic Guitar Blues; Libretto (Storytelling) Tracks

“Rock Opera” was transformed from an abstract term into evocative reality with the release of The Who’s album “Tommy.” Even lukewarm rock fans will never forget the saga of a “deaf, dumb and blind kid” who becomes a modern messiah -- while playing pinball! Few musicians have attempted to follow in The Who’s footsteps and write “operas” of their own, even if they wouldn’t meet the traditional definition of the word. Nevertheless, the Northwest's Pete Herzog has taken this bold step and creatively composed “Steel Guitar: A Blues Opera.” In it, Herzog combines 22 original songs with libretto, or storytelling, tracks. Together, these selections tell the tale of a timeless, traveling steel-bodied, chrome-finished acoustic, resonator guitar (a National brand?) and how it enriches the lives of those who play it. It’s a one man show easily holding attention as Herzog proves adept at guitar and warm and rich in vocals and narration. Always focused on the guitar, the story moves at a quick pace.

“Steel Guitar” tells the story of this instrument as it is passed from owner to owner. As it journeys, we meet colorful and lifelike characters, such as “Too Slim, Clyde, Willie, Stella, and The Sheriff.” The guitar is purchased and then, variously, is stolen, won in a card game, and inherited by later generations of players. According to Pete Herzog's website “Through its travels, the resonator sound is enriched by each person who plays it. Herzog’s 22 original songs are the glue between the stories and the lives of these characters, filled with love, loss and the pursuit of happiness, with a little rambling and gambling thrown in!”

Herzog's take: Listeners "will hear [my] songs give a flavor of blues history. [I] include musical styles that showcase elements of blues roots and development of different styles. I have often thought about vintage instruments I have played and wondered at their history and felt all those who had played them had colored their sound.”

Pete Herzog started playing at age eight on a lap steel. He learned the slide and playing using all the “harmonics and overtones he could wring out of an instrument. During the folk revival he switched to a regular guitar, but eventually was drawn to playing bottleneck slide. Pete discovered blues, bluegrass, and other roots-type music. Not knowing better at the time, he learned to play with a flat pick, not traditional but giving him a different style and sound. When he first heard the blues he was taken with the style, so similar to Hawaiian music in approach yet so different in sound and effect. Both types of music use the instrument as another voice, using all the harmonics and overtones to make the guitar sing."

As for “Steel Guitar,” it’s not exactly on par with “Tommy” (there are no songs as addicting as “Pinball Wizard,” for example), but it’s noteworthy in its concept and execution, and it’s perfect for making miles go by on car trips or a relaxing evening at home! 

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 32 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

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